Friday, December 03, 2004

Jim Litke: Helping Baseball Pull Its Head Out of the Sand

JIM LITKE, AP Sports Columnist
Thursday, December 2, 2004
From the San Fransisco Chronicle ( )

(12-02) 23:05 PST (AP) --

Baseball is about to be offered some much-needed help pulling its head out of the sand.

That might have been the farthest thing from Jason Giambi's mind when he strolled into a grand jury room in San Francisco during the early stages of the BALCO investigation. It hardly matters.

The flow of information from that federal probe is about to wash over baseball, the same way that evidence of drug abuse conveniently washed up on the doorstep of Olympic officials in time to thin the athletic herd headed for Athens.

Everybody says they're against juicing in baseball, too, but nobody does much about it. If this latest opportunity comes and goes without real change, the next time you feel the urge to point a finger, go stand in front of a mirror.

Fan polls show overwhelming support for a cleanup. But those fans who also vote with their feet show up at ballparks in record numbers. Commissioner Bud Selig and the players' union finally buckled on a testing program, but even dizzy former Dolphins running back Ricky Williams could beat the one baseball has in place.

And good luck to anybody who accepts the commish's latest promise to do better. It comes with a lifetime pass to the Amnesiacs Hall of Fame.

When asked about Giambi's leaked grand jury testimony, Selig touted the much-tougher program already in place in the minor leagues.

"We need to have that program at the major league level," he said. "This is just another manifestation of why we need that right away. My only reaction is we're going to leave no stone unturned until we have that policy in place by spring training 2005."

Right. And expect to see pigs handling the flyovers on opening day.

For 10 solid years, every time questions bubbled up about the role of performance-enhancers in supersizing of baseball, Selig & Co. bought themselves time by promising to study, monitor and test the players. Normally the commissioner and his loyal opposition over at union headquarters can't agree on whether the sun in shining. But when it comes to denying the game has a drug problem, they speak with the same forked tongue.

When home-run records fell from the sky so often that old-timers developed tics, Selig dispatched a fact-finding mission to the Caribbean to rummage through the factories where the baseballs were made.

When a bottle of androstenedione was eyeballed in Mark McGwire's locker, the proper authorities assured everyone the supplement was legal and allowed under the rules in place at the time. Then, just for good measure, Selig commissioned a team of Harvard scientists to study andro.

Two years later, he thanked the researchers for a "significant contribution to the science surrounding its use" and put the study in a drawer. Then he and union boss Donald Fehr agreed more research was needed. Only later, and with little fanfare, did andro slide onto the banned list.

When former stars Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti threw around estimates that more than 50 percent of their counterparts were on juice, the higher-ups advised everybody to calm down and consider the source.

And during a dress-rehearsal two years ago, when between 5 and 7 percent of the ballplayers anonymous tests came back positive, both Selig and the union had the chutzpah to describe it as a win-win situation.

Gene Orza, the No. 2 man at union headquarters, said those results proved the claims by Canseco and Caminiti were "wildly inflated." Ever the optimist, Selig chimed in, "Hopefully, this will, over time, allow us to completely eradicate the use of performance enhancement substances in baseball."

Know how many guys tested positive this past season, the first one in which players could be identified and punished?


At least that's the educated guess. Under the collective bargaining agreement, a first positive test results in treatment and a second in a suspension. No one was suspended and word never leaked out of any ballplayer being referred for treatment; draw your own conclusion.

Previous leaks to the media suggest that prosecutors feds can place Greg Anderson, the alleged BALCO bagman and Barry Bonds' personal trainer, at the scene of several questionable handoffs. BALCO founder Victor Conte is scheduled to tell some version of his story on ABC's "20/20" come Friday night. We may have to wait for trial to get the rest, but that's a matter of when, no longer if.

Giambi may have lied to fans, but he was smart enough, apparently, not to do it with the feds in the room. Still unclear is whether his employer, Yankees boss George Steinbrenner, or Selig can touch him -- or anybody else, for that matter, who answered the grand jury questions honestly.

And forget Selig's call to put some teeth in the current joke of a testing program by next spring. He can't rewrite the bargaining agreement in place through the end of the next season without the union's permission, and they'll likely be too busy pulling the wings off flies to take Selig's call before then.

Nothing changes in baseball until the customers demand it. Giambi's testimony is far from the first high-and-tight challenge to the integrity of the game, and it's even farther from the last.

Batter up.

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at

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